Bibliography: Gaiman, Neil. The Graveyard Book. New York, New York: Harper Collins, 2008. ISBN-13: 978-0060530921.
Plot Summary: A man goes into a house. He is meant to kill a man, a woman, a little girl, and a baby. He kills the man. He kills the woman. He kills the little girl. He cannot find and kill the baby. No, the baby wanders away and is found by spirits of an old graveyard. The baby is adopted and renamed Nobody “Bod” Owens. The living boy thus is raised by the graveyard, guarded by a man implied to have vampiric leanings. They tell him to never leave the graveyard for his safety, but how can the living stay always where the dead are? Who is after him? Why?
Critical Analysis: Parents might feel uneasy about their child reading a book about death, but they themselves will be drawn to the story of Nobody “Bod” Owens. This book shows the humor, the sorrow, and, yes, even the beauty and inevitability of death. In fact, this is one the best handlings of the subject of death for younger readers to read about. Bod Owens is not overshadowed by the supernatural that surrounds him, in fact, as he grows up, he shows to have, for lack of a better term, a noble spirit. When he sneaks into a living school, he wants the younger students to stand up to two bullies that are forcing them into giving up their money and shoplift for them:
“The other boy helped him pick the coins up, and handed them over…’Are you with them? Nick and Mo?’
The other boy shook his head. ‘Nope. I think that they are fairly repulsive.’ He hesitated. Then he said, ‘Actually, I came to give you a bit of advice.'”
Bod develops from an impulsive baby into a clever boy that wants to see wrongs be righted, whether it is for his original family or for what he witnesses as he peeks out toward the living world.
This book is also great at establishing strong female characters. At first, when you are introduced to Miss Lupescu, she iss described as follows: “[She] was not pretty. Her face was pinched and her expression was disapproving. Her hair was grey, although her face seemed too young for grey hair. Her front teeth were slightly crooked. She wore a bulky mackintosh and a man’s tie around her neck.” At first, readers would think she was a stereotypical prudish, stuffy teacher type, but as the pages unfold, you find that there is more than meets the eye to her. She and Bod eventually bond and she makes for a great addition to the cast.
“‘This is the boundary,’ said…Miss Lupescu, and Bod looked up. The three moons had gone. Now he could see the Milky Way, see it as he had never seen it before, a glimmering shroud across the arch of the sky. The sky was filled with stars.
“‘They’re beautiful,’ said Bod.
“‘When we get you home,’ said Miss Lupescu, ‘I teach you the names of the stars and the constellations.’
“‘I’d like that,’ admitted Bod.”
The novel has a villain, Jack, and the reader must delve further into the novel to find out more why he is after Bod. In the meantime, the reader reads chapter by chapter of Bod getting older and learning and maturing within his ghostly family and friends, including making mistakes here and there, such as getting his first living friend in trouble with her parents that they have to move away, playing with ill-intentioned ghouls, and getting in the crossfire with two con artists.
Dave McKean illustrates here and there with soft gray drawings that are framed by strong bold curves in black, adding the feeling that this is a book about what goes on after life. Bod learns to embrace life and so will the reader that has this book. It is humorous, adventurous, awe-inspiring, and bittersweet. It captures what life means and to cherish it when you have it.
Review Excerpt and Awards Won:
Winner of the Newbery Medal (2009), Hugo Award for Best Novel (2009), Locus Award for Best Young Adult Novel (2009), Carnegie Medal (2010). It was also nominated for the Mythopoeic Award for Children’s Literature (2009).
Following excerpt is from Kirkus Reviews, published September 30, 2008, and posted online May 20, 2010:
“Wistful, witty, wise—and creepy.
Gaiman’s riff on Kipling’s Mowgli stories never falters…Episodic chapters tell miniature gems of stories (one has been nominated for a Locus Award) tracing Bod’s growth from a spoiled boy who runs away with the ghouls to a young man for whom the metaphor of setting out into the world becomes achingly real. Childhood fears take solid shape in the nursery-rhyme–inspired villains, while heroism is its own, often bitter, reward.
Closer in tone to American Gods than to Coraline, but permeated with Bod’s innocence, this needs to be read by anyone who is or has ever been a child.”
Connections: Have the readers come up with how they would feel they want to be remembered as, and have them draw out their own personal epitaph/plaque. What life goals would they want to be remembered for?